Aug 6 2007

Back to Mainland Africa

Jeffrey Larson

When we finally got back to Antananarivo, we went straight to the Air Madagascar desk to see when we could get to Nairobi; we would try to get there as soon as possible.

When we explained what had happened to the woman at the Air Mad desk in the airport she was shocked and had no idea that these planes, which we were to fly on, had not come. She directed us to the check in counter and said that there was a flight that would get us to Nairobi today! It turned out that the earliest flight that worked was not the next Wednesday, but we could get fly the next day (Saturday) to Johannesburg and then on to Nairobi on Sunday. We jumped at this chance, and were glad to get some cooperation and hospitality from the people working for Air Mad back in Tana, back in civilization.

We demanded they pay for our hotel for Friday night and they put us in a hotel in Talatamaty, which is a village 10 minutes from the airport. The room we got was really nice, I had no idea they had such places in Madagascar until now! After we got checked into the hotel in the afternoon, we got a ride with the hotel lady in to the village so we could go to the bank, since we still had to send Rakoto the money that we owed him. And it was so lucky that we did get a ride with her and not a taxi, because without her help in the bank we wouldn’t have gotten anything done.
The bank was packed with probably a hundred people, there was loud music playing and our helper got us in to the right “queue” and somehow got us the correct form to fill out in order to send Rakoto the telegraphique cash transfer. We still had to wait over 2 hours to get it done but we were happy that we were finally out of foreign debt! We made a phone call to Rakoto to make sure he would get the transfer on Monday and gave him the transfer number, all done!

The next morning (Saturday), we went and used the internet at the post office, and tried to see if we could get some help with rearranging our safari and international flights since we were running out of time. If we could not go on our planned 4-day safari until Monday, we would not be able to make our original flights from Dar es Salaam Tanzania, so something still had to change.

We caught the plane in the afternoon and said goodbye to Madagascar. Although we had some uncomfortable experiences here, we still were so grateful to be able to come, and didn’t regret going to any place we did, including Maroantsetra… that’s how much we loved Masoala Peninsula.

We arrived in Joburg early enough in the evening, and our first stop before even leaving the airport was the Air Madagascar ticket office to get some vouchers for our forced stay over/reroute to Nairobi. After walking around and asking around, it was clear that Air Madagascar did not even have a ticket desk anywhere in the airport, so we headed for the South African Airlines desk since that is the Airline who we were flying with to Nairobi.

The SAA desk people agreed that a voucher was in order after looking at our tickets since it clearly showed that it was an involuntary reroute but they refused to issue any vouchers for another airline! Anyway, we got them to call someone in from the plane that we had just landed on, who was able to make a phone call to the right person at Air Madagascar, and they finally gave us hotel/meal vouchers. So we went and called our parents to let them know we were back safe in mainland Africa.

After our phone call we headed for the shuttle to our hotel, only to find out that we had just missed it, and another one was not coming for an hour! Argh, so tired of this crap, we considered catching a cab but angrily waited for the next shuttle instead. We ate dinner in our hotel room while watching TV for the first time in ages. Early tomorrow morning we will finally get to Nairobi… only 5 days later than our original plans.


Aug 6 2007

Maroantsetra

Sarah Marttunen

We finally have a few moments to tell you of our interesting adventure in Maroantsetra. On Tuesday morning we awoke to moderately cloudy skies, but plenty of blue popping through. We went to the airport early in the morning as planned to catch our flight back to Antananarivo. We checked in with no issues and were given boarding passes. At this time we met a really nice German couple, Bernd and Andrea. We sat waiting for the plane to arrive, chatting about our mutual experiences in the jungle. About 2hours after scheduled departure we watched the baggage handlers bring all of the luggage from outside back to the collection area. We were quite confused. Our tour operator, Rakoto from Le Coco Beach, told us that the plane would not be landing today. We were extremely concerned as we needed to be in Tana to catch our flight to Nairobi the following morning. As Jeff mentioned in the last blog, we had completely exhausted all of our cash funds and had no way of getting any more – how were we to pay for food let alone another night at the hotel. Rakoto spoke to some people and arranged for us to get a ride in the “air mad car” to the air mad office to talk to the “chief” of the office in Maroantsetra. The official car turned out to be a little truck with a tarp canopy filled with baggage handlers and our luggage. We all squeezed into the pick up bed and rode over the potholed road to the office. When we arrived we tried to ask the chief what the problem was with the flight. Instead of speaking back to us in English (like he had the day before when we had confirmed out flights with him) he answered our question in Malagasy, speaking to Rakoto. They argued in Malagasy for several minutes. Apparently the plane had not landed due to bad weather. At this point I (Sarah) sort of lost it and said (well, sort of yelled) to him, “The weather is beautiful!! Tell us the real reason”, to which he took great offense and left the office. We sat for a few minutes wondering what we were to do, we had no money and no way to get any. Thankfully the German’s overhead us talking and offered to lend us money as they had quite a stash of euro’s with them. As we walked out of the office to go back to le Coco Beach the chief came back and told us that the plane would likely land tomorrow. We asked him what we could do about our flights to Nairobi which were booked fit the following morning and he claimed there was only one flight a week to Nairobi, we would have to wait until next Wednesday to get to the mainland. Quite deflated, we made our way back to le Coco Beach. Once we got there we sat down to order some lunch when not 15min later Rakoto came running to the patio yelling “the plane will land today!”. So, we all packed back into the taxi and made for the airport. When we arrived we were issued another boarding pass (which we were asked to fill out ourselves). We sat and waited for about 1hour when sure enough, the baggage handlers were ordered to bring our luggage back in from the tarmac. Frustrated and hungry (by this point it’s about 4pm and we haven’t eaten all day due to our travels to and from the airport) we headed back for le Coco Beach. When we arrived Bernd and Andrea bought us some much needed beer and we began thinking about how to call Canada to get some help. Rokoto said that we could use his cell phone if we “bought some time for it” – strange how mobiles work there, ask us some time. So Jeff ran through the rain to a cell phone vendor and bought the most he could – 5000 Airy Airy worth, which is only about $2.80Can… which bought us a few minutes to Canada. We called Jeff’s mom and had her help us get in contact with our travel agent in South Africa (you can’t book African plane tickets from overseas… of course). After dinner and some complicated phone calls with Megan from SA, we discovered that it would cost us a mere $3000Can to get new tickets out of Tana to Nairobi. But we didn’t want to book them because we were unsure of when we would be leaving Maroantsetra. Megan also tried calling the air mad office in Tana but after several attempts ending with “oh sorry, no English” ‘click’, she gave up. That night we went to bed quite unsettled.

The following morning we woke up to some more cloud cover. After breakfast we walked to the air mad office to inquire about the said plane that should be landing. Unfortunately no plane today! “But”, the chief encouraged us “For sure tomorrow, actually, tomorrow there will be 2 planes!” (This of course he spoke in fluent English). This was Wednesday – we were supposed to be on our way to the Serengeti. We spent the day wandering around Maroantsetra, trying not to spend too much of Bernd and Andrea’s money. We had another dinner with our German friends and then headed to bed. I had a really terrible sleep, bothered with a stomach ache. We woke up early on Thursday morning as the plane was to come before lunch. We ate breakfast and then waited for our taxi. It was then that I started throwing up. We went to the airport yet again, were issued boarding passes and watched our luggage as it was wheeled out to the tarmac to await the plane. I was puking the whole time. I spent the entire day in the “bathroom” (no seat, no running water and no toilet paper) – it was not a happy experience. These hours are a bit hazy for me, but I do know that late that afternoon we some how ended up back at le Coco Beach. I was so violently ill I was puking even if I just sipped some water. It was a nightmare! Later that night we were fortunate to receive some phone calls on Rakotos phone from Ruth, Julene, Jeff’s parents and my parents. It was so encouraging to hear voices from home! At this point in our journey we felt like we may never actually make it home. It was good to know that there were people praying for us. Oh by the way – it had been stormy all day, lots of wind and rain. We went to sleep feeling slightly better after our phone calls with family and friends. I of course was back and forth to the bathroom all night (we didn’t have our own toilet), the rain didn’t let up once.

On Friday morning we woke early once again – this time to find even harsher wind and pelting rain. Quite apathetically we made our way to the airport. Bernd was taking bets on how many planes would land this day. There were now several North Americans and Europeans who were stuck – we had been there the longest, but hey, misery loves company! About 45min after planned departure of the plane I looked into the rainy stormy skies only to see a plane making it’s way. “THE PLANE!” I yelled… quite loud I’m embarrassed to admit. Everyone in the airport (about 75 people including the taxi drivers and guests) ran to the windows to watch as the plane soared down through the clouds and rain and land on the runway. We were getting on that plane. Jeff went out with Rakoto onto the tarmac to be certain that our luggage was in the pile that was destined to be loaded on to the plane. Meanwhile I pushed my way to the front of the line where I stood firmly regardless of how much I had to puke! There were only a few seats available – we anxiously watched as the head guy started shuffling through boarding cards. He called Bernd, then Andrea… pause, MR. SARAH MARTTUNEN!… longer pause, LARSON!. Hooray!! We almost ran to the stairs to board. They allowed an American couple to get on as well. And that was it! After 4 days, only 6 people were allowed out. Unfortunately our dutch friends had put their luggage onto the pile to be put in the plane… and it was put in the baggage hold – but their names were not called to board! The plane was delayed about 45min as they rooted around with the baggage handlers trying to find their bags. We were sad for them, but, SO glad to finally be on a plane out of Maroantsetra. Andrea was sitting in front of me and she kept saying “Don’t get excited, we’re not there yet!”. We made two stops on the way back to Tana – with each stop our spirits lifted higher and higher. Finally we landed in Tana – and Jeff continues the rest of the story in the next blog.